Men from the Ministry How Britain Saved Its Heritage Simon Thurley

Publication date:
28 May 2013
Yale University Press
224 pages: 235 x 159mm
100 b-w illus.
Sales territories:

Between 1900 and 1950 the British state amassed a huge collection of over 800 historic buildings, monuments, and sites and opened them to the public.  This engaging book explains why the extraordinary collecting frenzy took place, locating it in the fragile and nostalgic atmosphere of the interwar years, dominated by neo-romanticism and cultural protectionism. The government’s activities were mirrored by the establishment of dozens of voluntary bodies, including the Council for the Protection of Rural England, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, and the National Trust. Men from the Ministry sets all this activity, for the first time, in its political, economic and cultural contexts, painting a picture of a country traumatized by war, fearful of losing what was left of its history, and a government that actively set out to protect them. It dissects a government program that established a modern state on deep historical and rural roots.

Simon Thurley is the Chief Executive of English Heritage. He was formerly the Director of the Museum of London, and the Curator of Historic Royal Palaces.

'[A] sharp, thought-provoking book'. Michael Hall, Country Life

'Thurley knows his subject intimately; his account is stuffed with useful, interesting facts and with vignettes of bygone personalities'. Gillian Tindall, Literary Review

'Thurley’s message is clear: don’t let them take it away from us'. Hugh Pearman, The Sunday Times

'English Heritage has been an easy (and constant) target for government cuts and this book is, in a way, a defence of its raison d’etre and a warning of what would happen if it wasn’t there'. Edwin Heathcote, Financial Times